By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A federal judge declared a mistrial on Thursday in the obstruction of justice case against former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, ruling that jurors were hopelessly deadlocked, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Baca, aged 74 and suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, was standing trial on charges of trying to thwart a federal corruption probe that overshadowed the final years of his tenure as chief custodian of the nation's largest county jail system.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson's determination of a hung jury came during the fourth day of deliberations following a series of confidential "sidebar" talks between Anderson and the attorneys, joined at times by Baca and one of the jurors.
After a final 30-minute round of deliberations, the 12-member panel said it could not reach a unanimous verdict and that further efforts were fruitless. Anderson then pronounced the jurors "hopelessly deadlocked" and dismissed them, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for prosecutors.
Jurors said afterward they had split 11-1 in favor of acquittal, local media reported.
Anderson set a hearing for Jan. 10 on how to proceed.
Prosecutors must decide whether to seek a retrial of Baca on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The case stems from a wide-ranging federal investigation of inmate abuse by sheriff's deputies and other wrongdoing, including cover-up attempts, at two downtown Los Angeles jails.
The defense contended that Baca was unaware of efforts inside his department to impede the investigation and that his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, was to blame.
Tanaka is serving a five-year sentence for his role in the corruption scandal, the highest ranking of 17 officials convicted in related cases.
Baca has been slated to stand trial separately on a charge of making false statements to federal investigators, for which he plans to raise Alzheimer's as a defense.
Baca pleaded guilty last February to the false statement charge but withdrew his plea in August after a judge ruled that the six-month prison term prosecutors recommended as part of the deal was too lenient.
He was indicted days later on all three charges of obstruction, conspiracy and making false statements, for which he could face 20 years in prison if convicted.
Baca was the top elected law enforcement official in Los Angeles for 15 years before retiring in January 2014 amid the corruption probe at the county jail system, which houses some 18,000 inmates.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Hay and Leslie Adler)